There is no higher self than the moral self.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among them are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness; that to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” Declaration of Independence, 1776.
The endeavor to reconcile moral law with ambition shows that we cannot live by absolute, abstract principles. We need to relate them to life and human needs — and our best judges and juries do just that. The nature of the world doesn’t lend itself easily to bipolar, either-or, types of determinations. The cure has always rested in the long-range service of humanity — and this is true even when people apply what they imagine are “absolute” standards. There is nothing to be feared from the loss of absolutes.
How to get by with less than absolute points of reference. By involving and solving the age old riddle between good and evil. What purpose does the good or the evil serve in a human being? It relates to the fact that without living beings with needs, there can be no good or evil. And without the presence of more than one such living being, there can be no rules of conduct. Morality, then, emerges from humanity precisely because it exists to serve humanity. Theology attempts to step outside this system, even though there is no need (beyond coercion) for such a move. Trial-and-error efforts to sharpen laws, render institutions more effective, and fit moral principles better to improved knowledge of human nature continues. Morals are in large part a product of our common emotional responses, thereby allowing us to propose improvements in those morals by making appeals to the feelings of our fellows. Once confirmed, they are the laws of the governed. And, if it is possible for people to develop laws and impose those laws upon themselves, then it is possible to do the same with morality. As in law, so in morals; the governed are capable of rule because of their lived experiences. Giving voice to moralities are what inform the foundation of non-violence which is understood as a law of our being.
No doubt the responsibility in such a case is shared by those who ask for a thing. But if the thing is criminal, if, for instance, it is a licence to commit adultery, the person who authorises the act shares the guilt of the person who commits it. Here again what I have said is not in any way mysterious or esoteric. It appeals to no hidden code. It aims at no secret moral. It supposes nothing, and implies nothing but what is universally current and familiar. It is the common, even the vulgar, code I appeal to. I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. Here are the greatest names coupled with the greatest crimes; you would spare those criminals, for some mysterious reason. I would hang them higher than Haman, for reasons of quite obvious justice, still more, still higher for the sake of historical science. Quite frankly, I think there is no greater error. The inflexible integrity of the moral code is, to me, the secret of the authority, the dignity, the utility of History. If we may debase the currency for the sake of genius, or success, or rank, or reputation, we may debase it for the sake of a man’s influence, of his religion, of his party, of the good cause which prospers by his credit and suffers by his disgrace. Then History ceases to be a science, an arbiter of controversy, a guide of the Wanderer, the upholder of that moral standard which the powers of earth and religion itself tend constantly to depress. It serves where it ought to reign; and it serves the worst cause better than the purest. . . . My dogma is not the special wickedness of my own spiritual superiors, but the general wickedness of men in authority—of Luther and Zwingli, and Calvin, and Cranmer, and Knox, of Mary Stuart and Henry VIII., of Philip II. and Elizabeth, of Cromwell and Louis XIV., James and Charles and William, Bossuet and Ken. The greatest crime is Homicide. The accomplice is no better than the assassin; the theorist is worse. Of killing from private motives or from public, from political or from religious, eadem est ratio; morally the worst is the last. The source of crime is pars melior nostri, what ought to save, destroys; the sinner is hardened and proof against Repentance. Crimes by constituted authorities worse than crimes by Madame Tussaud’s private malefactors. Murder may be done by legal means, by plausible and profitable war, by calumny, as well as by dose or dagger.
“I can retain neither respect nor affection for government which has been moving from wrong to wrong in order to defend its immorality.”
― Mahatma Gandhi